It was a moving thanksgiving service in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge parish church. Patrick Simpson had lived a long life and served the community tirelessly in support of conservation and music. We had attended his 100th birthday celebration earlier this year. And now many had gathered to say our final farewell.
Afterwards I wandered through the New Town, boarded the X60 and headed for home. My companion was The Way of All Flesh, its author Ambrose Parry. The book’s cover was festooned with glowing crits. I was in for two surprises. Ambrose Parry I discovered was not a person, rather a pseudonym for a husband-and-wife, Edinburgh-based writing team: acclaimed author Chris Brookmyre and wife and anaesthetist Marisa Haetzman. The second surprise: at the heart of this novel towered one of Patrick’s direct relatives, none other than Dr Simpson, he of ether and obstetric fame.
The tale takes us back to 1840s Edinburgh where poverty and privilege reign. Medicine is at a crossroads as big clinical egos fight for prominence and presbyterian preachers pontificate on the pain of childbirth. Lob in bodies found in the Old Town, police who can turn a blind eye, local heavies who exercise their own form of justice with ruthless efficiency, and we enter Edinburgh’s dark underworld of murder and vice. The plot twists and turns and never ceases to surprise. I was gripped. No spoilers from me, but both the plot and the setting combine and conspire to produce a tight thriller, which embraces the great and the good, such as Dr Simpson and his contribution to medicine, and the easily forgotten, the murdered prostitute, the young woman great with child, and others struggling simply to survive.
There were no X60s when Patrick was born 100 years ago, but on your next journey you might like to go back in time to 1840, meet one of his ancestors and savour a good read: you will not be disappointed.
Reviewed by a library member.